The Code Acts in Education seminar series ran 2013-2015  to establish a program of research. Details about each of the past seminars and speakers are included below.

Seminar 1: Why code acts in education? 
Tuesday 28 January 2014, University of Stirling, 10.30am-4pm

Code Acts in Education_seminar 1 programme

The opening seminar will establish the significance of code as a sociotechnical actor in education. It will ask what we mean when we say that ‘code acts,’ or that it inserts ‘algorithmic agency’ and ‘computational power’ into education, and will explore how code governs, manages and educates people. It will also ask what is involved in ‘learning to code’—is this just the return of computer science to the curriculum or is it related to cultural practices of ‘prosumption’ and ‘co-production’ of media content and the ‘democratisation’ of software development? Key speakers:

Professor Rob Kitchin, National University of Ireland Maynooth, author of Code/Space: Software & Everyday Life, The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences (forthcoming) & director of the 5-year ERC-funded project The Programmable City

Amy Solder, Nesta. Amy works on the Digital Education programme in Nesta’s Innovations Lab, with a particular focus on projects promoting young people to learn computer code

Dr John Potter, London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, author of Digital Media & Learner Identity: The New Curatorship

Dr Ben Williamson, University of Stirling, project director of Code Acts in Education & author of Learning Identities in a Digital Age

Seminar 2: Code acts in educational institutions
Friday 9 May 2014, University of Edinburgh, John MacIntyre Conference Centre, 10am – 4pm

Code Acts in Education_seminar 2 programme

Twitter: #codeacts

Modern educational institutions are increasingly augmented and animated by code. From instructional software to data management tools, the school, college and university have become complex coded environments where everything from teaching to finances is managed, mediated and partly automated by software. The seminar will address key questions about how software and its underlying code creates new modes of educational governance and practice. How does software, its code and algorithms, mediate the data used to govern education? What can educators and learners do to understand the influence of code? How does code transform the space of the classroom? How is code woven through the pedagogies of teachers, and what pre-programmed assumptions about learners and knowledge are translated through coded practices, for example in database-driven learning analytics and networked MOOCs?

Provisional programme:

10.oo Registration

10.30 Welcome & introduction from Dr Sian Bayne & Dr Ben Williamson

10.45 Professor Jenny Ozga, University of Oxford, author of Fabricating Quality in Education: Data and Governance in Europe & director of ESRC-funded project Governing by Inspection. Jenny will examine the extent to which data systems frame knowledge production, distribution and use in governing schooling, and consider the role of software and code in mediating this knowledge.

11.45 Matt Finn, University of Durham, doctoral researcher in the School of Geography. Matt will examine how futures are being imagined and enacted in schools is through the increased production and use of data, mediated through software and managed by data analysts.

12.30 Discussion: How does software shape educational data?

1.00 Lunch

2.00 Professor Simon Buckingham Shum, Open University, Assoc. Director (Technology) at the Knowledge Media Institute, co-founder of the Society for Learning Analytics Research, and FutureLearn advisor. Simon will examine how analytics embody educational worldviews.

2.45 Dr Sian Bayne & Jeremy Knox, University of Edinburgh, organisers of E-Learning & Digital Cultures MOOC. Sian and Jeremy will investigate MOOCs as a set of sociomaterial entanglements, in which human beings and technologies each play a part, and will consider the role of algorithms in such entanglements.

3.30 Cabaret table conversations: Are educational institutions now ‘code spaces’?

4.00 Round-up and close


Seminar 3: Code acts in community & lifelong learning
Friday 12 September 2014, 10.00 – 16.00, University of Stirling

Learning takes place everywhere, throughout the life course. It is both lifelong and life-wide. It embraces learning beyond educational institutions and provides possibilities for education linking different facets of people’s lives. As software increasingly saturates everyday life, how is it shaping the possibilities and potentials for lifelong learning? How does it affect how we come to know, how we access information, and what role does it play in the interactions and collaborations through which learning takes place? Can we consider code a kind of immanent, programmable pedagogy that is always there in everyday life, subtly shaping conduct, thought and action? And how might code be reconfiguring the existing and potential communities within which lifelong learning takes place? With what impacts?

Code Acts in Education_seminar 3 programme

10.00 Registration & refreshments

10.30 Welcome & introduction, Professor Sian Bayne, University of Edinburgh

10.45 Professor Adrian Mackenzie, University of Lancaster, Centre for Science Studies, author of Cutting Code: Software & Sociality

11.45 Doug Belshaw, Mozilla Foundation, coordinator of the Web Literacy Map, Open Badges & Teaching the Web

13.00 Lunch

13.45 Professor Chris Speed, Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, Chair of Design Informatics and co-organiser and compere for the Edinburgh events

14.45 Dr Nishant Shah, founder and Director Centre for Internet & Society, Bangalore, co-editor of Digital AlterNatives with a Cause?

16.00 Closing remarks

Speaker abstracts

Where code acts: passionate imitation, infrastructures and making programming work
Adrian Mackenzie, University of Lancaster

Some of the recent changes in the writing and circulation of code can be seen in the ‘largest code repository on the planet,’ What can we learn from the 13.2 million code repositories on about where code is acting in the world? This paper suggests that this almost incomprehensible and methodologically daunting number of coding projects should not be understood so much as ‘software takes command’ of culture, business or power, but more in terms of a crowd sociology. A crowd sociology of coding would look at the ways in which imitation, repetition, and style of expression and abstraction animate code. In other words, how do the 13.2 million repositories attest not so much to the crowd-sourcing of code but to the crowd dynamics of coding today?

Reclaiming the web for the next generation
Doug Belshaw, Mozilla Foundation

We’re at peak centralisation of our data in online services, with data as the new oil. It’s a time of ‘frictionless sharing’, but also a time when we’re increasingly having decisions made on our behalf by algorithms. The burgeoning field of predictive learning analytics promises much, but many existing examples are ‘black box’ solutions by commercial providers. Education is now subject to a land grab by ‘software with shareholders’ looking to profit from collecting, mining, packaging, and selling learner data. Meanwhile, educators talk of ‘personalising learning’, of pathways guided by learner interests, and of alternative credentialing. To what extent can these two forces, of centralisation and data mining on the one hand, and of learner choice and alternative pathways on the other, be reconciled? We’ll be discussing Mozilla’s work around Webmaker, Open Badges, and what ‘literacy’ means when it’s applied to the web.

My sculpture says that it deserves a better mark
Chris Speed, University of Edinburgh

As networked objects become more common, the amount of data that they collect will soon outweigh what we know about the physical device. As artefacts share information with the other artefacts around them, code can be written to interrogate their shared use. Machine learning is being used across a wide variety of databases to identify patterns in order to elicit new insights: as the databases of objects intermingle with each other and our own data shadows it won’t be long before objects begin to make suggestions about their own use and value. This new relationship with physical objects is something that we may increasingly have to negotiate, as ‘things’ are increasingly constituted not just with material and data but computer codes and algorithms that change our assumptions that an object is inert, or in the context of art and design education, that the object is complete and finished when it is submitted as coursework. This quality to play a role in influencing and producing spaces may be best described as performative, a term attributed to the language philosopher Austin who established that words can be used not only to describe something, but can used to do something. As the data that is connected to objects is associated with codes and algorithms to produce ‘performative utterances’, artefacts around us are likely to use barcodes as mouth pieces to tell us what they would like to do, or how they would like to be used and perceived. And in the context of art and design education, it won’t be very long before we will be giving peer assessment forms to the objects that our students have made, as well as the students themselves. The implications for art and design education as coursework artefacts begin to accrue and share data, and for this data to begin to be the material basis for computer code to ‘speak’ are tremendous and will disturb all traditions of practice within making, exhibiting and examining coursework.

Cracking the Code: Learning how to ask the question again
Nishant Shah, Centre for Internet & Society, Bangalore

From 2010 – 2013, we worked with 500 undergraduate students, across 9 colleges in India, to understand how young people from socially and economically underprivileged groups can engage in sustained education and the role that digital technologies can play in it. We were skeptical of the language of access, usage, penetration, training, and infrastructure that emerge from the ICT for Development discourse and reduce these questions to questions of the technological rather than that of political purport. In this talk, I look at the ways in which we reclaim these questions and offer case-studies and examples from the research to suggest that we need to infuse political specificity and historical sensitivity in questions we ask of code and technology in our debates around sustained and engaged learning.


Seminar 4: Code acts in professional learning
Friday 20 February 2015, 10.00-16.00, University of Stirling

Professionals today are challenged to work in conditions of dynamic complexity, where new technologies are rapidly reconfiguring their practices and knowledge. The seminar will explore how code acts to shape new forms of knowledge and demand new approaches to professional learning. For example, what challenges are posed by big data and its algorithmic analysis to professional practice generally? How is code changing the work and professional learning of healthcare professionals? What are the epistemic implications of code for professional relations, identities and responsibility? Programme:

10.00 Welcome & introductions from Professor Tara Fenwick & Dr Ben Williamson

10.20 Professor Susan Halford, University of Southampton, Director of the Web Science Institute & co-director of the Work Futures Research Centre: Decoding Code: a critical politics of the semantic web as an opportunity for inter-professional learning

11.00 Sarah Doyle, University of Stirling, ESRC funded PhD student in professional education in health care, focusing on paediatric diabetes: Conditions of Possibility for Professional Knowing: Digital Technologies Coding Diabetes Care

11.30 Questions & discussion


13.30 Professor Monika Nerland, University of Oslo, co-director of Horizontal governance and learning dynamics in higher education: Digitization in professional work: Implications for knowledge and learning

14.00 Professor Eric Meyer, Oxford Internet Institute, author of Knowledge Machines: Digital Transformations of the Sciences and HumanitiesThe new literacy: Coding and algorithms across the disciplines

14.45 Questions & discussion

15.45 Plenary & close


Susan Halford
Decoding Code: a critical politics of the semantic web as an opportunity for inter-professional learning
This talk responds to recent calls for a critical politics of data and artefacts (Savage and Burrows 1997). Building on the broad legacy of science and technology studies and recent ‘algorithmic studies’, the talk will focus on the emergent development of the ‘semantic web’. Whilst this raises expectations that we are on the brink of a new data paradigm – where it will be possible to draw together data from diverse sources, at scale and speed to address hitherto intractable questions and problems – this talk emphasise the importance of playing close attention to the technical infrastructures involved and their implications for the future of knowledge, expertise and the power relations that govern these. At the same time, the development of this critical politics depends on collaboration across the disciplines affording the opportunity to examine the operation of these power relations and to identify the times, places and activities that might disrupt them.

Sarah Doyle
Conditions of Possibility for Professional Knowing: Digital technologies coding diabetes care
Public policy support for diabetes technologies means insulin pumps (also known as Continuous Subcutaneous Insulin Infusion) are increasingly widely used. For the professionals working in this area of health care, these new technologies become entangled with existing practices, local routines and established ways of understanding. The embedded software assumes, privileges and sometimes excludes; it enrols particular actors, both human and non human, and limits the participation of others. In this seminar, I draw on ESRC funded doctoral research to examine the effects of code on health care practice in paediatric diabetes and to consider the corresponding implications for health care professional education. In particular, I show some of the ways that the algorithmic patterns of instructions, pre programmed into insulin pump devices, work to reconfigure existing arrangements for knowing.

Monika Nerland
Digitization in professional work: Implications for knowledge and learning
Digital tools and databases play an increasingly important role in many professions, and contribute to change what it means to be a knowledgeable professional. On the one hand digitization may lead to black boxing of knowledge processes and more instrumental modes of practice, which may prevent learning and critical engagement. On the other hand, it may open new opportunities for epistemic practice and stimulate learning. New representational forms require knowledge practices to be ‘opened up’ and used in relevant ways, and they may thus take the function of knowledge objects that are explored and adapted by professionals. This presentation will use examples from different professional contexts to explore what digitization might imply for professional knowledge and learning, focusing on the interplay of tools, infrastructures, and epistemic modes of practice. A key argument is that digital technologies require analytic and epistemic competencies for professionals to take advantage of them, and that these competencies should be prepared for in professional education.

Eric Meyer
The new literacy: Coding and algorithms across the disciplines
Language literacy has always been seen as a relevant tool for a variety of disciplines, but literacy in the languages of computer code and algorithmic approaches to working with data and information has only relatively recently been viewed as an essential skill outside of computer science. With the continuing growth in demand for digital humanities specialists, data scientists, and people skilled in digital social research, professionals who can learn both the specialist languages of disciplines as well as the languages and potential of computation will set themselves up to fill the increasingly important role as ‘bridgers’ in academia and in business. This talk will include examples from post-graduate student work in particular to demonstrate how coding skills can be applied to interesting questions across a variety of fields.


Seminar 5: Coding/Learning
Thursday 1 October 2015, 10.00-16.00
Room 4.10, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, 35 Berkeley Square, Bristol BS8 1JA. Directions and map.

The final seminar in the ESRC Code Acts in Education series will consist of presentations by the series organizers plus a guest keynote, drawing on the findings from the series and sharing new research completed during the project. The seminar is free but as places are limited you will need to register. The presentations will cut across key themes of the series: how code mediates and shapes educational spaces and practices, learning to code, the technical infrastructures of education, data in education governance, digitized online HE, and digitized professional learning. The organizers have produced a free e-book to accompany the event, Coding/Learning: Software and Digital Data in Education. The programme:

10.00 Registration

10.15 Welcome and introduction

10.30 Guest keynote: Professor Tom Liam Lynch, Pace University, New York, author of The Hidden Role of Software in Educational Research: Policy to Practice

As software increasingly mediates and shapes  society, including education, teachers and school leaders must be exposed to the ways such mediation can affect pedagogy and professional culture, especially in ways that contradict the aims of equitable democratic education. This presentation presents critical software studies as a conceptual framework that can be used to challenge optimistic assumptions about the role of technology in education and in so doing expose the ways software affects teaching, learning, and public perception of our public school system. It offers methodological recommendations to researchers and to educators and teacher education programs.

11.15 Dr Ben Williamson, University of Stirling
Coding cultures: learning to code and the making of digital citizens

‘Learning to code’ and ‘digital making’ initiatives have proliferated globally in recent years. In England, programming has become a key part of the new computing curriculum. This presentation will provide a critical exploration of learning to code, focusing  on the ‘culture of code’ from which it emerges and the ways it has been aligned with notions of active citizenship for an increasingly digitized future. In particular, it examines how learning to code and making are part of a reimagining of participation in future cities, or smart cities. In these coded urban spaces, digital citizens are encouraged to take part in ‘civic coding’ to build new digital interfaces to city services and to inhabit the forms of conduct that are considered appropriate to citizenship in the computational dynamics of the city.

12.00 Professor Sian Bayne, University of Edinburgh
TeacherBot: robot partners in HE teaching

The literatures on teaching with technology tend to be dominated by anthropocentric resistances to the technological ‘working-over’ of teaching, or on equally humanistically-oriented promises of, and imperatives for, ‘enhancement’ of learning through technology. ‘Teacher automation’ emerges within this literature almost as a nexus between the positions of technological-promise (the infinitely reproducible, low cost, maximally efficient automated tutor) and technological-threat (the supercession of human teachers by ‘robots’). The presentation article will  survey this landscape of resistance and embrace, before moving on to consider a particular code intervention—the ‘teacherbot’—designed to allow us to play across the torn landscape of pedagogic automation.

13.00 Lunch

14.00 Professor Richard Edwards, University of Stirling
Ontology-building in the knowledge infrastructures of education

In exploring the work of software in the knowledge infrastructures of society and education, most attention has been given to the role of algorithms and the increased automation of data manipulation and visualisation. Less attention has been given to the ways in which digital data is organised in order to be read, manipulated and visualised. Integral to this organisation of data are the practices of ontology-building. Who is involved, the practices of categorisation in which they participate and the outcomes of that work are integral to what forms of information are produced. This presentation will outline some of the work on ontology-building and explore its educational significance.

14.45 Professor Tara Fenwick, University of Stirling
Professional learning & responsibility in digital futures of coded practice

How are big data & software code transforming professional practices? Where is professional responsibility in these coded practices? What are implications for professional education? These are the questions I consider in this presentation, drawing from examples of professional work in medicine and law, higher education, architecture and others.

15.30 Discussion & close

2 Responses to Seminars

  1. Pingback: Multimodal Profusion in the Massive Open Online Course – JISC Digital Literacy Webinar with ALT (LiveBlog) » Nicola Osborne

  2. Pingback: Code Acts – The middle space of algorithms and [learning] intents | Finding Knowledge

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